230. Paper Prepared for the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)1


1. Status of coup planning.

Don saw Ambassador Lodge briefly at airport Monday2 morning Saigon time. Lodge confirmed bona fides of Conein. Don said coup group not yet ready. He said coup must be Vietnamese, and Lodge said we would not interfere or thwart.
Don saw Conein Monday evening Saigon time.3 He said: Lodge would have plans before coup, but possibly only 4 hours in advance. He said nothing would happen for next 48 hours. Since he was told Lodge would leave Oct. 31 for US, there is reason to believe coup may be scheduled for Wednesday night or Thursday morning Saigon time (Wednesday morning or evening our time). Don’s request to Conein to remain available at home starting Wednesday evening seems to confirm this estimate.

Command post for coup will be Joint General Staff hq. near airport in Saigon.

Don said he would be in touch with Conein again in 48 hours.

2. Estimate of coup.

Position of military leaders—see attachment.
Position of military units—see attachment. Picture is not very clear as there are many gaps in our information. Lodge explains this on security grounds. Coup group would appear to at least have preponderance of forces.
Civilian role—see attachment.
Lodge’s estimate:4 Coup attempt by Generals is imminent; whether it fails or succeeds, U.S. will be held responsible; no positive action can prevent coup other than informing Diem and Nhu. There will be no time in any case to check with Washington re coup since Don indicates U.S. may be given only four hours’ notice.

3. Possible actions for U.S. to consider:

Movement of U.S. military units5 in South China Seas and Okinawa into positions in which they were placed in August. Pro: to be in position to evacuate U.S. dependents in case of necessity. Con: will probably tip hand to GVN that something is up since GVN learned about our movements in August. Don asks that we avoid actions re American community that will tip off GVN. Our recommendation: ask for Lodge’s view.

Lodge will review his travel plans Wed. night Saigon time to see whether he can leave. Don has asked that he make no change in his plans because it might tip off GVN.6

Should we make military plane available to Lodge in order to make his travel plans more flexible? If so, it should go no further than the Philippines without further word from Washington.

On coup planning we suggest Washington leave the matter in Lodge’s hands. Any action from here may gum up the matter.7

[Attachment 1]


Military Personalities

General Duong Van (“Big”) Minh—leader of coup group and apparently its military planner. Most respected and popular of all military officers. Now holds nominal post of military advisor to the President.
General Le Van Kim—political planner for the coup. Most intelligent and has keenest political sense of all military officers. Very close to “Big” Minh and brother-in-law of General Don. Now holds nominal post with Interdepartmental Committee on Strategic Hamlets.
General Tran Van Don—contact man for coup group with Americans, other Generals and division commanders. Serves as Acting Chief of the Joint General Staff, the top military position.
General Pham Xuan Chieu—earlier said by Don to be one of four Generals on coup committee. Known to be rather close to other Generals named above. Now serves as an inspector of strategic hamlets.
General Tran Thien Khiem—earlier reported by Minh as member of coup planning group, but now apparently not active with group as Don reports he is under suspicion by the President. Serves as Chief of Staff of the Joint General Staff (i.e., No. 2 to Don).
General Do Cao Tri—evidently made aware of coup plan by Don, but as CG I Corps in Central Viet-Nam, too far away to play an immediate role.
General Nguyen KhanhCG II Corps in Central Viet-Nam. Same comments as for Tri.

General Ton That DinhCG III Corps with headquarters in Saigon. Neutralized by coup sympathizers around him.

[Numbered paragraph 9 (2 lines) not declassified]

[Attachment 2]


Military Units

Don does not know exactly the position of military units regarding the coup, but has furnished some information (all we have).

Of key units following is status based on Don’s sketchy information:

Presidential Guard—2500 with 15 tanks and 12 armored personnel carriers. “Some units” and at least 4 tanks with coup group.
Armor Branch—4300 with 21 tanks, 41 armored personnel carriers and 14 armored cars. No information from Don, but loyalty to Diem earlier considered highly questionable.
Airborne Brigade—2550 in Saigon area. One-half of brigade with coup group.
Marine Brigade—1500 in Saigon area. Two battalions with coup group.
Special Forces—1840. Presumably with Diem as not involved with coup group.
Air Force—2812 in Saigon area. All with coup group.
Navy—2200 in Saigon area. Presumably with Diem as not involved with coup group.
5th Division—hq. at Bien Hoa about 20 miles from Saigon. All with coup.
7th Division—hq. at My Tho south of Saigon. Position on coup unknown.
9th Division—newly moved to Delta from Central Viet-Nam. With coup after it starts.
21st Division—hq. deep in Delta. All with coup.
23rd Division—hq. at Benmethnot in Central Plateau, about 200 miles from Saigon. Half with coup.
22nd, 25th, 2nd and 1st Divisions—all far removed from Saigon in Central Viet-Nam. No information on their position.
135th Territorial Regiment—hq. in Saigon. Not involved in coup plan-presumably not contacted.

[Attachment 3]

Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Kattenburg) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Rice)10


  • Civilian Leadership of Coup Group

The four names of civilians associated with the Generals’ coup group which we received this morning, e.g.:

  • Dang Van Sung
  • Pham Huy Quat11
  • Tran Trung Dung
  • Bui Diem

are all connected with the Dai Viet party, a long-standing non-Communist nationalist opposition group, anti-French before independence and anti-Diem since. The group is generally pro-U.S.

Recognized older leaders of the Dai Viet are Sung (48 years old) and his cousin-by-marriage Quat (long highly regarded by our official representatives in Saigon). They have both managed to remain relatively inconspicuous in their opposition, and thus to avoid arrest in [Page 463] recent years. President Diem is known to have considerable respect for Quat, but the latter has consistently refused to join and serve the GVN.
Bui Diem is a much younger Dai Viet leader, who has for several years been one of the few oppositionists in regular contact [less than 1 line not declassified]. He is assessed as very dynamic.
Tran Trung Dung, who is related by marriage to the Ngo family and who served Diem capably as Defense Secretary from 1955 to Nov. 1960, is a definite asset to the group. Recent telegram on his views is attached.12
The absence of any reference to Vice President Nguyen Ngoc Tho in these recent messages does not, in my opinion, indicate he is not involved. He is Big Minh’s closest political contact and will most likely emerge as Constitutional successor. In his case, however, extreme security precautions are obviously required.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Countries Series-Vietnam, 10/1/ 63-10/10/63 and undated. Top Secret. No drafting information is given on the source text. The paper was apparently prepared in anticipation of the meeting on the coup at 4 p m.; see Document 234. There are notes on the source text apparently in Hilsman’s handwriting indicating that Harriman, U. Alexis Johnson, Ball, Sullivan, and Hilsman met at 2:20 and 3:20, perhaps to refine these talking points.
  2. October 28. See Document 224.
  3. See Document 225.
  4. Document 226.
  5. A handwritten note at this point reads: “Ltd. stand by alert Sat? by White House. Forrestal did something, S/S Read says.”
  6. A handwritten note at this point reads: “Secy thinks 1) as seen from here Lodge should not follow schedule (plans as scheduled) 2) Ensure Harkins filled in.” A note in the margin reads: “Decide p.m.”
  7. Handwritten notes at the bottom of the page read: “Secy 3rd Intel assessmt-prospects, Intel people new assessmt,” and “What do we do if both sides ask support-e.g. helicopters?”
  8. Top Secret. Prepared by Mendenhall.
  9. Top Secret. Prepared by Mendenhall.
  10. Top Secret.
  11. A handwritten note next to Quat’s name reads: “Probable Prime Min.”
  12. Not found.